Spherical Fish 015 - We're really being optimistic with that leading zero, aren't we?

In today's Spherical Fish, we review: Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond The Black (the expansion), Near and Far, and Wild Skies: Europa Tempest.

Some deeper thoughts on Wild Skies (since this was a legit review copy instead of just us talking about stuff we bought):

Wild Skies: Europa Tempest is an RPG that was funded by kickstarter from Wet Ink Games, written by Brandon K. Aten and Matthew Orr. It is a dieselpunk, anthropomorphic animal, airship game set in an alternate 1930s Europe. Lot going on there, but it's definitely a neat mashup. Dieselpunk / Airships means that there's a magic ore in the game that makes big old flying battleships feasible, and you'll be playing characters that are probably really closely involved with flying around in some kind of vessel. Anthropomorphic animals - think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Usagi Yojimbo, Talespin; everyone is an animal of some kind. The setting makes sense here - after World War I, there's a lot of intrigue in Europe, and technological developments of flying corps means things probably depart from the "standard" history track right about here - WWII would be really different with flying battleships.

I like the depth of this world. There is a ton of material here, in a way that reminds me of the old Rifts sourcebooks (and this is good). I can't speak to more recent Rifts material, since I stopped playing in the 1990s, but Rifts books were always a great source of highly-realized story content. There's a ton of stuff here about the different factions, lots and lots of animals, and quite a lot of equipment. On the one hand, there may be too much - if you're a minmaxer you may feel compelled to scour the books to find the gun that does optimal damage or something like that. On the other hand, I don't think this is really an optimizer's game - I'll get into that later.

Phil pointed out that even if you don't want to play the setting, you could use it to recreate Talespin. There's pretty complete rules for skills, flying vehicle handling and combat, and each animal species is pretty distinct from the others without being too ridiculous.

There's also a really nice system for operationalizing character goals and advancement. You set up a couple of axes (like "wealth to sacrifice") and set a direction on them. As you advance towards your goals, through roleplay, you are rewarded with advancement points. I really like this for two reasons. One, it segments out advancement from things like "kill a monster to get XP". You can advance in a lot of ways, and the GM isn't left handing out ad hoc XP for good roleplay in a kind of house-rule fashion. Here, the game rewards you for living up to your character's needs and desires. Two: there's room in this system for a whole party to do different things, but still each advance their own stories and characters. I like this idea and I am going to borrow it for some of my own campaigns for sure.

If I had to nitpick a little, it is that I'm not wild about the mechanics of conflict resolution. As I read the rules, with attributes, difficulty, and so on, a characters skills and attributes will not often change the outcome of a roll. Generally, you're rolling a d100 with the GM telling you how difficult the task is (easy, medium, hard). Your attributes, which range from 1 - 10, can be added to this roll. So, a really able person with a 10 in their attribute will succeed only marginally more often than someone with a 2, since you have to roll in the window where your bonus takes you from failing to succeeding for it to matter. There are other ways to boost rolls (skills, dice pools), but ultimately it really looks like your character stats - the things that define who your PC is mechanically, skills and abilities - really won't influence your success checks all too often.

I actually have the same problem with Numenera / Cypher system gaming. You spend pool on effort to get a +3 on a 20-sider roll, and often that pool is wasted. You basically have a 15% chance of rolling the die in such a way that the expenditure takes you from failure to success, and that's thoroughly unsatisfying.

Anyway, that's my nitpick, and it's minor, really. The gameplay seems pretty smooth in terms of mechanical resolution (a small number of rolls rather than being simulationist), and the whole thing seems to focus a lot more on the roleplay than on the mechanics. If you've got a hankering for Mutants in Space but not in space, and not using the really old and creaky palladium TMNT system, give it a look.

Three words for tonight are:

  • Femur
  • Animatronic
  • Crude

Music credits for the show can be found here.

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